Is Romeo and Juliet an Anti-Irish Rant?

There’s not much Shakespeare content in Neal Stephenson’s The Rise And Fall of D.O.D.O, much to my dismay. But there is a bit that’s new to me and worthy of discussion.  The story is a time travel one, and when our hero is transported back to Elizabethan England to hang out with an Irish prostitute, he wants to talk about Shakespeare. He notices that Romeo and Juliet is currently playing.

“It’s a shite play,” she responds, “Just a court sponsored rant against the Irish.”

She then cites her evidence:

  • the “villain” is a Catholic friar, and “everybody knows” Catholic is code for Irish.
  • his meddling is the cause of all suffering and the reason why the play is  tragedy and not a comedy
  • the friar’s name is Lawrence, obviously named for St. Labhras, who was martyred by a poison of his own concoction.

Is this a well known conspiracy theory, or did Stephenson make it up?  He’s got other examples, less specific – the one about the “terrible drunk Irish character staggering about the stage wailing about how all the Irish are villains and bastards and knaves” or the “English king who went to conquer Ireland, and he said the Irish live like venom.”

So, did Shakespeare hate the Irish?


5 thoughts on “Is Romeo and Juliet an Anti-Irish Rant?

  1. What ish my nation? Ish a villain, and a bastard, and a knave, and a rascal. What ish my nation? Who talks of my nation?


  2. Looks like the Irish Prostitute is talking shite herself.

    Don’t know where she could have heard it–the internet wasn’t invented yet . . .

    A check of several dictionaries of saints failed to yield a St. Labhras. Granted, Labhras is an Irish variation of Laurence None of the saints named Laurence or Lawrence died from poison.
    Those saints traditionally killed by poison prior to Shakespeare’s day are:
    Saint Nerses the Great (373)
    Blessed Odolric of Lyon (1046) Not fully a saint, but close enough, I guess.
    Blessed Ottone of Toulouse (1493) Also just short of sainthood.
    None of them were Irish.
    There are quite a few more, but they are all priests “poisoned” by the Nazi Gas chambers.

  3. First of all, I don’t really think of Friar Laurence as a “villain” and I’m not sure people back then would, either. Yes, his scheme was ill-planned, but he seems as much a victim of fortune/fate as anyone else in the play.

    Second of all, would people in Elizabethan England really think Catholic = Irish when Elizabeth’s cousin Mary, queen of Scotland, was famously Catholic? Catholic could just as easily be Scottish in that era as Irish.

  4. I’m in the middle of this book right now so I’m not sure if it’s elaborated on later, but it’s obvious that this book takes place in a parallel universe to our own. There are several references that are oddly different. Such as referring to the Pentagon as the Trapezoid.

    St. Patrick’s day is something different.

    There’s a couple others I’m sure.

    I think the idea of Shakespeare as an anti Irish propaganda might also be one of these timeline differences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *